Seniors And Saving Medicare Could Be The Difference In TX-17

While it might seem unusual for a Republican to champion Medicare, Bill Flores - the Republican vying for the seat in Texas' 17th Congressional District - has staked out a position that defends the government-run insurance plan from cuts in this year's health care reform law.

In an email to supporters sent out Oct. 14th, Flores attacks incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, for opposing repeal of "Obamacare." Edwards was one of the 39 Democrats who voted against America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 last November, and against final passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March.

The Obamacare bill which Congress passed, the President signed and became law, includes a $455 billion reduction in Medicare spending from 2010-2019, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Additionally, the bill cuts another $60 billion from Medicare, bringing the total cuts to over $500 billion over the next ten years.

A huge portion of the cuts, over $130 billion, directly impacts a program called Medicare Advantage, a privately run, subsidized plan that is popular with millions of seniors.

Because of the way that these Medicare Advantage plans are funded under a 2007 law, they cost more than traditional Medicare. The subsidized private plans cost about 12% more than the fee-for-service government plans according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Nora Super, the top lobbyist for AARP, called these cuts "savings" in a nationwide conference call with reporters. "The vast majority of the savings were agreed upon by the hospital community. The physician community has endorsed the legislation. The pharmaceutical industry as well. Everybody is recognizing the status quo cannot stay," she said. She also pointed out that primary-care physicians will be paid 10% more to treat Medicare patients and that the Medicare actuaries project that the program's solvency is extended by a decade because of these cuts. The AARP lobbied to pass health care reform.

President Obama called the additional costs of Medicare Advantage "a giveaway" at a town hall event in New Hampshire last August.

In Texas, 12% of seniors are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. That's 569,606 participants according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

A new Washington Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll reveals seniors will be a key demographic in November. Among seniors who are interested in the upcoming elections, 51% prefer Republicans take Congress while 40% prefer Democrats retain control. Among all other seniors, that is reversed with 51% preferring Democratic control to 37% for the GOP.